Partnership hopes for town heritage

By Steve Peacock in Other News

Moves to create a nationally acclaimed heritage townscape in the centre of Totnes, with the centuries-old St Mary’s Church, its open space and churchyard and the Totnes Guildhall at its heart, has just been unveiled.

A partnership involving the church and the Totnes Trust has already been formed to look at transforming the areas around the 15th century church into one of the most attractive historic areas of any small town in England – and helping to give the town a tourism boost.

Now Totnes Town Council – which owns and Guildhall and courtyard – has been invited to come on board and join the partnership.

The church has already drawn up plans for a massive £2.5m project to repair the fabric of St Mary’s and create a new community space within the building.

The Totnes Trust wants to turn the High Street area outside the church in to a town square, create a ‘beautiful green amenity space’ out of the churchyard and a highly visible through route from the main street to the Guildhall, to open up the courtyard and Ramparts Walk area behind the church.

Totnes Trust spokesman Louis Victory outlined the proposals to the council’s operations committee as he invited the council to join the ‘St Mary’s Partner­ship’.

He said: ‘That area ought to be one of the best heritage townscapes in the UK. It could be so much better.’

And he said after the meeting: ‘We believe that the area around St Mary’s has fabulous potential to become a real joy to the community. There is no doubt it can also be a truly unique heritage asset with significant benefits for tourism and trade.’

Councillors agreed to support the idea in principle and put it to the next town council meeting in February.

The Totnes Trust is a charity established to preserve and enhance historic buildings and public spaces in Totnes which has been behind the Leechwell Garden, the Shady Garden and the ongoing Rotherfold project.

The Parochial Church Council in Totnes is currently looking at a major scheme to carry out work on the 500-year-old St Mary’s Church, which is on the national heritage ‘at risk’ register. The plan includes work to broaden the community use of the building.

The trust and church council have decided to work together and consult widely on a comprehensive vision which would be attractive to local residents, tourists and potential funders.

The partnership felt that the town council – which owns the Guildhall and outside courtyard and is responsible for the St Mary’s churchyard – would be a ‘key partner’ in helping to realise that vision.

John Birch, treasurer and project co-ordinator for the church council, added: ‘This church has stood proudly symbolising the importance of Totnes for many centuries. It is our resolve that it will not only survive the ravages of time but will find an ever more relevant purpose in the community.’

Mr Victory pointed out to town councillors that the church and the area around it is ‘absolutely unique’ with the Guildhall, the churchyard with its remains of the old priory, the Tudor building on the High Street and town walls.

He said that the area in front of the church could be turned into a ‘magnificent place to be’.

He said that a route could be formed from the High Street to the Guildhall, inviting people to explore a hugely important historic part of the town.

And he pointed out that at the moment there is nothing in place to tell people what is there and its historical significance.

After the meeting he added: ‘It will be brilliant if we have the town council on board. The partners intend that ideas for the church and its surrounding will be generated during public consultation in 2017.’

At the meeting, operations committee chairman Marion Adams said she thought it was a ‘good scheme’ but she pointed out that St Mary’s churchyard is a ‘closed burial ground.

She added: ‘There are things that can and can’t be done there.’

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